A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way,

and shows the way.

John C. Maxwell

I belong to several different communities online and many of them are focused on leadership. And, if you have followed this blog at all, you know that we talk most days about personal and professional development, about becoming better leaders. One of the things that comes up in discussions often is who is a leaders, and what makes them that. I am from the school of thought that we are all leaders in the sense that, even if we lead no one else, we lead ourselves. But honestly, for many people who aren’t the “boss” they are leaders within their small groups. So today, let’s talk a little about what it means to separate yourself from the group and step up into a leadership role.

When you are at work, do you find that you get frustrated that things don’t seem to be happening or getting done the way you think they are supposed to be? You have begun to notice people milling around but nothing gets accomplished. And in the daily hustle and bustle, do you feel that your personal and professional goals are remaining just that? Goals. Then perhaps you have come to a time when you need to stand up and do something about it.

Many people are content just to stand around taking orders. And it’s not hard to adopt a follow-the-leader, don’t make waves mentality. But perhaps you have begun to feel, somewhere inside of you, a desire to make things happen. To use a little church parlance, to be the head, not the tail. Then maybe it’s time for you to seriously think about your role in leadership.

There is an ongoing discussion as to whether great leaders are made or born. Yes, it is probably true that some people are born with natural talents that lend themselves to being god to great leaders. But, without practicing, without some kind of drive, without a deep enthusiasm, and without valuable and rich experience, there can be no true development in leadership. Leadership does not develop in a vacuum.

If you are ready to step up your game, you must also keep in mind that good leaders are continually working and studying to improve their natural skills, and to hone their natural and acquired abilities. Becoming the leaders that you believe yourself to be takes a commitment to constantly improve in your chosen endeavor.

What is leadership?

First of all, we need to define leadership. Only when we have a working definition that we both understand can we have a conversation comparing apples to apples.

Dictionary.com gives us four definitions of the word.

1. the position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group. Synonyms include administration, management, directorship, control, governorship, stewardship, hegemony.

2. ability to lead. Synonyms include authoritativeness, influence, command, effectiveness; sway, clout.

3. an act or instance of leading; guidance; direction.

4. the leaders of a group.

So, in order to consider yourself a leader, you must be able to influence others to accomplish a goal, or an objective. This should be an objective that contributes to the organization as a whole, as well as the cohesion of the group.

Contrary to what most people want to believe, leadership is not about power. Or, at least it’s not just about power. It is not about scaring people or pushing them to act in a particular using fear. It is about encouraging others towards the goal of the organization. It is about getting everyone on the same page and helping them see the bigger, grander picture of the organization. Being a leader is not just about being the boss.

What tools do you need to have or improved upon to become a good and effective leader?

1. Know thyself

Being a leader is not about what you make others do. It’s about who you are, what you know, and what you do. You are a reflection of what you’re subordinates must be.

As a leader, you must either be able to cast a new vision for your group, or you must thoroughly understand and embrace the vision of the organization you serve.

If you work within an organization, you must have a clear sense of hierarchy. You need to know who the “bosses” are, who to speak with about specific issues, your organization’s values, goals and objectives, and how the organization really works. By knowing all of these things, you can demonstrate to others that you know what you are doing. You must know who holds the real power, who the real “movers and shakers” are, and how to get things done as expediently as your organization will allow.

2. You need followers

Duh, right? Well, how do you accomplish this? People follow other people when they can see a clear sense of purpose. People will only follow you if they can see that you know where you are going. There was once an popular bumper sticker that read, ”Don’t follow me, I’m lost too. ” Well the same principle holds true for your leadership. If you do not know where you’re headed yourself, then the chances are high that people will not follow you at all.

3. Trust and confidence

There have been many studies that show that one of the most important foundations of good leadership is the trust and confidence your people have of you. If they trust you they will go through “hell and high water” for you and for the organization. Trust and confidence are built on good relationships, mutual respect, trustworthiness, and high ethics.

The way you treat people and deal with them, and the relationships you build will lay the groundwork for the strength of your group. The stronger your relationships, the stronger their trust and confidence in your capabilities. And, for that matter, the stronger your confidence in what they bring to the table.

4. Good communication

Once you have built up trust and confidence, you can now communicate the goals and objectives you want to undertake. NO relationship, no true communication. Good communication is a vitally important key to good leadership. Without this you cannot be a good leader. You must be able to clearly impart your knowledge and technical expertise to other people.

5. Judgment

You cannot be an effective leader, nor last very long if you do not have good judgment. You must be able to assess situations and people, weighing the pros and cons of any decision you need to make. And then you must actively seek out a viable solution.

It is this judgment that your subordinates will come to rely upon more and more. And, good decision-making is critical to the success of your organization.

6. You don’t have to be a super-hero

Many people fall into this trap, but leaders are not know-it-all or do-it-all heroes. You should never find yourself claiming to know everything, and you should not rely solely upon your own skills and expertise.

You must recognize and take full advantage of the skills and talents your people have. Only when you come to this realization will you be able to get your team of followers to work as one cohesive unit.

Being a leader means investing work and time in yourself and in others.

It cannot be learned overnight.

Never, ever forget, that leadership is not about just you. It is about you, the people around you, the goals and visions of your organization, and your organization.

So, do you have the drive and the desire to serve as a leader? Yes, it is about service.

Do you have the desire to work cooperatively with other people?

Take and inventory of where you are, what you bring, and what things you are willing to work on.

Take your stand and be leader today!

photo credit: Special thanks to leader of the #bealeader chat and G+ community, Jen Olney for the use of her logo. http://www.gingerconsult.com/bealeadercommunity/